What’s Exciting About Federal Technology Today?
Believe it or not, the next big thing in federal IT isn’t a new product or service. The most exciting, important, and lasting impact for federal technologists today is the opportunity to transform the culture of our organizations.
The federal government is at a pivotal moment in our digital transformation journey. Over the past decade, teams and leaders across agencies have focused on moving IT modernization efforts forward. Some efforts succeeded where others stumbled, but the momentum kept building. However, with all that momentum the government has not yet achieved change at scale. This moment for change is the reason I left the private sector and signed on as CIO at the Department of Energy in 2021.
Across agencies, federal technologists are adopting modern development practices, including implementing Agile methodologies and DevSecOps. Collectively, we have great ideas and knowledge that we need to tap into, but until now, these efforts are still mostly happening in pockets.
With the lessons learned along the way and the added investment and oversight from our respective organizations and our partners on the Hill, we are ready to shift from isolated efforts and scale transformation across agencies and the entire government.
The challenge is significant, and rapid acceleration can be intimidating. Achieving transformation at scale will require significant collaboration and deliberate planning.
1. Scaling IT Modernization Playbook
This year my team and I launched the “Scaling IT Modernization Playbook,” a roadmap to help organizations at the crossroads of digital transformation. We designed the Playbook in consultation with federal and industry tech leaders: CIOs, CTOs, CDOs, and CISOs. We conducted interviews, surveys and focus groups seeking to understand the secrets to success.
Some readers may be surprised to discover that the key factors determining success are not technology but rather the “soft tissue issues” of people, practices, processes, policies, politics, and culture.
The result is a comprehensive and digestible resource: a series of plays organized by theme, each containing concrete action steps and lessons learned. Some plays went beyond what I would have predicted, proving the value of working collaboratively across the interagency and with industry leaders.
We expect that most Playbook readers are already progressing in their modernization journey and will utilize the plays that will help them move their transformation to the next level. For each play, we included relevant foundations, necessary components, and success factors needed to execute them. These components relate to funding, security, talent, architecture, leadership, governance, and program vision.
2. Looking Closer
Plays are grouped into themes but are not listed in any hierarchy or recommended priority, because each theme contributes to the overall success, and each organization’s modernization journey is unique. Readers can tackle the three themes in a sequential or concurrent manner, as appropriate for the organization:
- “Mission Focused: Business-driven Innovation” can be uniquely challenging for IT staff whose day-to-day work may be removed from the organization’s mission. In short: Value outcomes over process. Never pursue modernization for the sake of modernization. Ground IT modernization efforts in mission outcomes and improved customer service, whether the “customers” are government employees or the public. Key plays here focus on vision, mindset, and data adoption.
- “Speed and Agility” cautions against underrating speed as value. Technology moves fast, and so should modernization efforts. Organizations must have the right tools, culture, and environment to enable true agility. Plays here focus on risk management, responsive cyber, building workforce culture, valuing learning, and delivering solutions.
- “One Enterprise, One Government” emphasizes coordination at scale. We must reduce time and effort to move up the learning curve by getting people to work together early and often. We need to work together across the government to overcome common barriers, leverage relationships, and share assets that provide cost-of-efficiency advantages. Plays here focus on breaking down silos and building shared services.
Each play includes rationale, foundations, step-by-step actions, real-life examples of success, and key considerations. The Playbook is meant to be actionable. What does that look like?
3. What’s Next?
So, what’s next? I’m working at DOE and with the Federal CIO Council’s Innovation Committee to apply ideas from the Playbook as we continue our modernization journey.
My team at OCIO is using the Playbook as a critical resource in our strategic planning efforts.
The Playbook can be a resource for your team as well. The Playbook is easily accessible at energy.gov/cio and free to download. Please consider how to implement the plays at your organization, and I’d love to hear what worked and what we should include in the next edition.
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